Google wants you on the web as much as possible. They want you on the web so bad they’ve created the Chrome operating system, a completely web-reliant client experience built around the Chrome browser anyone with a web-connection can install and use for free. But an operating system is no good without the hardware to house it. Google wants you on the web so bad they’ve struck a deal with Samsung and Acer to release the Chromebook, the former’s Series 5 3G being the specific model being reviewed. It’s essentially a netbook taken to the ultimate level of bare necessity, serving as a portable conduit for users to experience a Google-centric Internet and a modest spectrum of basic computing needs met through cloud-based Google applications. What that means when staring at a 500 dollar price tag is what follows.
- Arctic White or Titan Silver color options
- Intel ATOM Processor N570, 1.66 GHz
- 2 GB of DDR3 type memory
- Google Chrome OS
- NM10 Graphics, shared
- 12.1 inch non-gloss screen with 1280×800 resolution
- Island-style keyboard, buttonless clickpad
- 16 GB SSD on-site storage
- 8.5 hour long battery life
- 3.2 lbs, 0.64 average width
Almost every laptop, notebook, and netbook has the component maker logos on the right-hand corner of the palm rest. The first notable thing about the unopened Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is that underneath the signature “Samsung” name printed on the left-side of the waxy back casing is a Google Chrome button logo bubbling off the surface. Google wanted to make sure they received equal billing with the manufacturer. It’s declarative and confident, and I liked that.
The front features a four-in-one memory card reader while the left side is where you’ll find the headphone jack/external mic hookup, one of two USB ports, and a mini-VGA port backed by a standard VGA adapter included with the Chromebook. The right side includes the second USB port and a SIM card slot. The bottom-side of the port covers will grind against the adjacent part of the frame and take some prying to open so do so with care. This is despite the fact that it’s made from the same high-quality plastic that consists of the entire bottom-half of the Chromebook’s casing.
The rounded edges of the Series 5 Chromebook keep it in-line with where the general trend in portable devices is going. The topside’s corners are slightly sharper which is no doubt meant to help the user grip it for opening. The corners of the bottom half of the frame are a bit more bulbous and you can barely tell where the keyboard half ends and the bottom begins because they connect nearly underneath where your fingers would be when grabbing the edge. This adds to the durability but perhaps more to the perception of durability.
There’s no clasp keeping the Chromebook from being opened you simply flip it up. The hinge is sturdy but my gut tells me a few thousand openings and closings will wear it down to a point where the screen tilts unhealthily backward.
The keyboard is astoundingly solid compared to seemingly high-end netbooks such as the Toshiba NB305. There’s security in the punches of your typing that you don’t get with many netbooks and low-end laptops, where every stroke seems to chip away a little piece of life from the computer. This is demonstrated in particular by the way in which the weight of your palms anchors the Chromebook down, and how the density of the machine distributes that weight evenly as you type. There are no F-keys and only 74 keys in total sit on the Series 5 Chromebook.
The clickpad is tricky. Similar to the remarkably-built Samsung Series 9 it requires some adaptability to what amounts to sensitivity and stubbornness on the part of the clickpad. I often found myself failing to click on an icon because my middle finger was still slightly sitting on the middle of the pad, which I found to be natural. It resulted in me having to tempo it between two fingers similar to alternating between a clutch and gas pedal.
The non-gloss screen is everything you’d expect. It sets underneath an HD 1-megapixel webcam with built-in microphone. Audio comes from two mini speakers located near the hinge.
Here’s the deal: there’s hardly any surprises with the Chromebook. It sets out to achieve a strictly-web oriented experience that’s satisfactory, and it does so.
As far as Chrome OS goes there’s few complaints so long as it’s understood from the get-go that it’s sans desktop and completely reliant on a wireless connection (there’s no Ethernet port.) The experience is based half on the speed of your connection. I found that Facebook was accessed in seconds, ditto news sites, in seconds on an 8.35 Mbps connection. Videos take some time to load especially if your browsing as a guest wherein cookies and other files are not saved.
The other half of the Chromebook experience revolves around the ability to adapt to a relatively clumsy clickpad and a Spartan keyboard. Know your shortcuts, because you’re going to need them unless you want to rely completely on a series of arrow use and pad coordination that takes time to maneuver through even when you’re used to it. Use CTRL-ALT-? To access a virtual overlay showing you all the ones you need to know about.
Battery life for the Chromebook is remarkable as it should be considering it lacks the majority of what eats away a typical netbook’s battery life. Samsung says the Series 5 Chromebook will last 8.5 hours on a charge and that’s about how much life I managed to get out of it.
The 3G version allows the user the ability to access Verizion Wireless mobile broadband service and comes with two years worth of 100 MB per month of it for free. That in my opinion doesn’t justify the $60 difference between it and the Wi-Fi only version.
But that’s hardly the only issue about the price of the Chromebook. Strictly speaking specifications and standard user desire there’s no reason it should have the $430-500 price tag that the Series 5 does. That expense, compared to such durable cheapies as the Asus Eee PC X101, is purely from the high costs that are inherent with a newfangled release.
With that said, the buyer of the Chromebook will be someone who is already full aware of the limitations and the ill-reflective cost. On that plane of perception, the value changes. Purchasing a Chromebook will in some ways simply be a forward-thinking statement and nothing else. The Chromebook, love it or hate it, is a glimpse into the future or at least a period of the future of portable cloud-based computing.
If you find yourself already a user of online Google applications and can live with throwing a few extra hundred dollars down for the sake of an experimental experience, then the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook could be the right choice for you.